Tuesday, April 24, 2018

A Few Videos

I don't know about you, but I have trouble finding time to watch the videos I come across and really want to see. So I'm going to store a few of them here and hope that I get back to give them the time they deserve.

Meteorologist Eric Holthaus, speaking at the Pacific Science Center a few days ago, on Our Last, Best Chance. (And see this interview with Holthaus by Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition Town movement, on how human imagination makes it hard for us to grapple with climate change, among other topics.)

A debate: Capitalism vs. socialism, with Elizabeth Bruenig on the side of socialism.

Alex Steffen speaks in Boulder on the climate crisis, and how great cities that prioritize people give us a platform for high quality, low-resource consumption lives.

Maybe some time soon, I'll have time to listen (or watch) these.

Monday, April 23, 2018

The QLaser Guy Is Going to Jail

One of the most-visited posts on my blog is from 2013, QLaser Scam: Dumbest of the Dumb. Readers of that post (I imagine) have googled QLaser to see if it's real, as most of us do when we are researching medical treatments, and I get a little bit of pleasure from each one those visits because my post helps people find out they shouldn't waste their money on it.

Two years ago, the FDA won an injunction against QLaser's promoter, former dentist Larry Lytle.

Well, now the Department of Justice has won a fraud conviction of Lytle and two others. Lytle was sentence to 12 years in prison, while the other two got 24 months and 15 months, plus restitution to be determined.

Lytle ended up pleading guilty to "one count of conspiracy to introduce misbranded medical devices into interstate commerce with the intent to defraud and mislead, and one count of criminal contempt."

As part of his plea agreement, Lytle admitted that beginning in 2005 he entered into an agreement with others to sell medical devices with false and misleading labeling in order to defraud consumers, and that he continued to do so in violation of a federal court order. He also acknowledged that he obtained at least $16,669,015 over the course of the scheme. Lytle made an initial restitution payment of $637,000 and has turned over several thousand dollars’ worth of gold and silver coins to be applied to restitution....

Lytle and his co-conspirators... (who operated QLaser distributorships) marketed and distributed QLaser devices to (mostly elderly) consumers across the United States by falsely claiming that the devices could safely and effectively treat a panoply of medical conditions at home, including cancer, emphysema, diabetes, autism, HIV, and heart disease. Lytle created false and misleading product labeling that was designed to create the false impression that these claims had been scientifically proven. In truth, no published clinical or scientific studies supported the use of QLaser devices to treat those and other serious conditions, and the ...FDA... never approved the devices for such uses. To lend credibility and authority to his claims, the potential QLaser purchasers were told “Dr. Lytle” was a “retired” dentist and medical laser expert while omitting the fact that his license to practice dentistry had been permanently revoked for engaging in fraud and material deception.

Lytle and his co-conspirators forged ahead with the fraud even after a federal court ordered them to stop selling and refund all QLaser purchasers in a series of injunctions issued in 2015. In violation of the injunctions, Lytle made false statements to the court and FDA investigators, sent collection letters to QLaser purchasers rather than pay them court-ordered restitution, smuggled hundreds [of] devices out of South Dakota to upstate New York to prevent their seizure, and received a steady stream of income from continued QLaser sales....

“These defendants exploited elderly victims suffering from chronic, serious medical conditions,” said Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division...

“These defendants were motivated by greed, and they targeted vulnerable people by giving them false hope while fleecing them,” said U.S. Attorney Ron Parsons of the District of South Dakota. 
I'll say. Greedy and stupid. Twelve years isn't enough, but is typical of the way white-collar crime is handled.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Wizard and the Prophet

I mentioned Charles Mann's The Wizard and the Prophet a few weeks ago, when I was about 200 pages in. I've finished over a week ago, and I don't think I'll manage to do a full post on it.

But for Earth Day, here are a few relatively random facts and ideas from the book.
...eliminating coal pollution in northern China would raise average life expectancy there by more than five years. (By contrast, wiping out all cancer would increase U.S. or European life expectancy by three years.) (page 333). [Those deaths, I note, have nothing to do with climate change. Just pollution.]

When the IPCC says...the likely consequence of doubling carbon dioxide is a temperature rise between 2.7°F and 8.1°F, the scientists have a specific definition in mind for "likely." ...[they] estimate there is a roughly two-thirds chance that the temperature rise will be between these two numbers [and] a one-out-of-three chance that the effect will be outside that range. Very roughly speaking, this translates into a one-out-of-six chance that nothing much will happen — and a one-out-of-six chance of complete disaster, which chunks of the planet becoming nearly uninhabitable (page 334).

At the beginning of the 20th century...barely 10 percent of the world's grain harvest went to animals, mostly horses, mules, and oxen used as farm labor. By the beginning of the 21st century, the figure had risen [to] perhaps 40 percent...the great majority of it destined for dairy and meat animals" (page 192).

Between, 1961 and 2014, the world's meat production more than quadrupled. Simply reproducing that jump [in the future] could easily require doubling the world's grain harvest (page 192).
Consider cassava, the big tuber also known as manioc, mogo, and yuca.... On a per-acre basis, cassava harvests far outstrip those of wheat or other cereals. In optimal conditions, cassava farmers have pulled 160,000 pounds per acre from the ground—more than fifty times the average for wheat. [And even accounting for cassava's higher water content] cassava produces many more calories per acre than wheat (page 213).

[California] remains the nation's biggest producer of alfafa, used for cattle feed [in other states and exported]. Meanwhile, more water is used to grow alfafa than is consumed by all the households in California (page 250).
In discussing GMOs, Mann describes how the low-hanging wheat of the Green Revolution will not happen again:
Farmers can't plant much more land; in Asia, almost every acre of arable soil is already in use. Indeed, as cities expand into the countryside the supply of farmland may be decreasing. Nor can fertilizer be increased; it is already being overused everywhere (except some parts of Africa). Irrigation, too, cannot readily be expanded. Most land that can be irrigated is already irrigated (pages 193-194).
One of the main possibilities that remains is to increase the efficiency of photosynthesis, so that is what many scientists are working on. Mann explains the complications that have prevented that type of change so far, and that even if it becomes possible, the plants that result still have to be bred for other properties (including disease-resistance, ease of growth, and palatability).

Mann is clearly in the camp of people who don't find GMOs to be inherently bad, but who questions how they end up being used within our existing economic system:
Wizards, [Norman] Borlaug among them, have repeatedly claimed that GMOs are essential to feeding tomorrow's world, which they identify with large-scale industrial agriculture. Prophets, who believe that large-scale industrial agriculture endangers tomorrow's world, naturally resist any innovation that is said to be central to perpetuating it. In this way GMOs became a focus for a larger disquiet, a synecdoche for a larger anxiety about being an insignificant part of a vast economic complex that did not have the citizen's best interests at heart (page 206).
Wizards and Prophets, the hard path and the soft, the subject of the book—explored through a century and dozens of innovators and thinkers:
...the soft path is about limits and values.... At one level, it is about reforming institutions; at another, about changing habits. Ultimately, though, it is a vision of the human place in nature. Hard-path supporters see technology placing humanity in charge: we can move H2O molecules wherever we want to satisfy our wishes. Soft-path people think this level of control is illusory—cooperation and adjustment, not command and control, is the way to live (page 237).

The hard path creates universal Wizardly solutions that do not depend on local conditions or knowledge. It leads quite naturally to broad fields of waving grain—visions of concentrated productivity. Societies that adopt the soft path will lead toward networks of smaller farms with drip irrigation and multiple crops—the inhabited, networked spaces preferred by Prophets. One values a kind of liberty; the other, a kind of community. One sees nature instrumentally, as a set of raw materials freely available for use; the other believes each ecosystem has an inner integrity and meaning that should be preserved, even if it constrains human actions (page 250).
There's lots more where that all came from.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Saturday Miscellanea

A few photos from recent weeks.


Parallel to the current penchant for peek-a-boo book covers, there also seems to be a lot of interest in strings or trails coming off of letters.


An odd juxtaposition at the doctor's office.


Check out the token in the center of the pennies: it says Minneapolis St. Paul and features a light rail train. Our light rail trains have never used tokens, and that's not a street car, I think, which did use tokens. So a bit of a mystery.


I've been meaning to take a photo of this South Minneapolis business for years because I find the name funny. I'm sure they're tired of hearing it, but Parents Auto Care?


This magazine is produced by the St. Paul Pioneer Press as an advertising vehicle (pun intended) for higher income readers. It's usually full of crassness, but this cover really topped it. The featured house has a showroom for the owners' car collection, adjacent to the patio and pool area. The spot where the red and blue cars are parked used to be an indoor pool, replaced with this use in a remodeling project.


This is a screen snapshot from the recent double episode of Full Front with Samantha Bee that covered the Puerto Rico situation in more depth than anything else I've seen. I feel as though I can approve of this shirt because I, too, am American, so it's partly self-criticism.


I recently went on a tour of the greenhouses and labs at the University of Minnesota's department of horticulture and I want to do a return visit, if only to take photos of all the hand-made and personal-computer-generated signs. They were a hilarious glimpse of the way people try to communicate with unknown others in often passive-aggressive ways. This was one I did manage to capture. (I must point out that there is no receptacle under the COMPOST sign.)

Friday, April 20, 2018

Stranger Chalk Art

This is my chance to say: If you haven't watched Stranger Things, I recommend it. I was afraid it would be too scary for me and feed my nightmares, but it didn't.

I was reminded of it by this chalkboard art:


Seen at Pizza Luce on Franklin Avenue. That's the character called Eleven in the bottom right corner, with the waffle.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Alien Life

It may seem as though I spend all my time reading advice columns (since I can't help commenting on the oddities I find therein). But so what: they're just so strange sometimes.

Take this recent letter to Miss Manners, for instance, quoted in its entirety:

I am the paternal grandmother, and I hosted a meet-and-greet for our grandson. I hired a photographer and planned a day of making memories, mostly for the paternal great-grandparents.

Maternal grandparents want pictures. I say no. Our grandson lives three hours away, and we see him maybe once a month. They see him via FaceTime every day, every weekend, and never share with us. Am I wrong?
That's all there was: no setup, just launching into "I am the paternal grandmother." An introduction may have been edited out, but as is, it makes for a strange start, and then it gets stranger. What is this grandmother, a PR flak? She arranged for a "meet-and-greet"? She sets about overtly trying to "make memories," complete with a hired photographer?

I'm very glad not to be part of this family, whether in-laws or outlaws.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A Wreath for Emmett Till

My friend who died recently, and whose memorial service I attended during Saturday's snow storm, was a children's book expert and former editor. At her service, she asked that some of her books be available for people to take home and share. Many of them were picture books.

One that I picked up was new to me, A Wreath for Emmett Till by poet Marilyn Nelson (Houghton Mifflin, 2005).

Nelson describes in the introduction how hard the book was to do, and I can only begin to imagine: the challenge of writing about Till's horrific murder, and especially to write about it for children. It's inexplicable in the same way that racism is inexplicable, except it isn't.

She wrote the book in the form of a heroic crown of sonnets, which means a series of 15 interlinked poems where the last line of each becomes the first line of the next, and the last poem is made up of the first lines of the preceding 14. That difficult framework made it possible to deal with the impossible story she had to tell, she says: "The strict form became a kind of insulation, a way of protecting myself from the intense pain of the subject matter."

It's a beautiful book (with illustrations by Philippe Lardy) that ties many kinds of plants into the tragedy to make a wreath. That made it extra resonant for me. Rosemary, bloodroot, Indian pipe, mandrake, trillium; the oak trees used to hang lynched black men.

This is one of the poems:
Trillium, apple blossoms, Queen Anne's lace,
woven with oak twigs, for sincerity...
Thousands of oak trees around this country
groaned with the weight of men slain for their race,
their murderers acquitted in almost every case.
One night five black men died on the same tree,
with toeless feet, in this Land of the Free.
This country we love has a Janus face:
One mouth speaks with forked tongue, the other reads
the Constitution. My country, ’tis of both
thy nightmare history and thy grand dream,
thy centuries of good and evil deeds,
I sing. Thy fruited plain, thy undergrowth
of mandrake, which flowers white as moonbeams.
That duality of the American story — liberty for some but oppression and death for others — is our country's constant refrain, though all too often unknown to white people. I appreciate Nelson's service in making it apparent.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Where Does It All Go?

For Tax Day, one drawing from the graphic explainer Hypercapitalism:


Lack of understanding of complexity and the desire (human need?) to simplify things work against us every day.

Monday, April 16, 2018

I Don't Get It

One aspect of Christianity as it is often practiced (or its texts are written) that I don't understand is the use of adulatory language toward god. This is an omnipotent, omnipresent being, and yet "He" needs humans to exult him and praise him.

I am a relatively normal human being and I hate being praised. I don't like being recognized for my efforts, and I don't like being thanked publicly. Why does anyone think an all-powerful god needs puny-old-us to praise him? I know I'm extending my attitude to someone who is supposed to be beyond human understanding, but what seems more likely, that an all-powerful entity who created everything wants to be praised constantly, or would rather stop hearing about it all the time? He knows he made it, right? Does he need us to keep jabbering on about it?

I was thinking about this a few days ago while attending a Lutheran memorial service. As church services go, it was fairly inoffensive and the hymns were actually highly appropriate to the day and the person being memorialized (references to snow storms and higher learning and a kick-ass attitude toward life). But the part of the responsorial that had the congregation saying, "We glorify you," "We praise you," and "We worship you" made me wonder.

Worship: From Old English, originally the word meant the "condition of being worthy, dignity, glory, distinction, honor, renown." The verb we use today dates from the 14th century.

Praise: "to laud, commend, flatter," c. 1300, from Old French preisier, from Latin pretium "reward, prize, value, worth," from PIE *pret-yo-, suffixed form of *pret-, extended form of root *per- (5) "to traffic in, to sell." [Related to "price." Huh.]

Glorify: from Late Latin glorificare "to glorify," from Latin gloria "fame, renown, praise, honor." Use with God as an object dates from late 14th century.

It also occurred to me during the service that the Lord's Prayer, which (according to the Bible) was  uttered by Jesus Christ in the Sermon the Mount, contains none of that stuff. The closest is saying god's name is "hallowed," which just means his name is holy (from Old English. Note that, according to the two Bible books that include the Lord's Prayer, Jesus did not say "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.").

These thoughts are similar to my ruminations on the word "proud" a few years ago. I was already this way before Mulligan came to power, and now I want even less to do with recognition and praise. Knowing that "praise" and "price" are related makes enormous sense in this day and age.

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All etymologies are from the excellent website, etymonline.com.


Sunday, April 15, 2018

Imagine a Man, Part 2

Remember that recent post of mine about the woman dentist, who posed like a pinup in an ad for her own practice? I asked if you could imagine a male dentist posing that way, knowing the answer would be no.

Here’s an inverse situation from a letter back in March to advice columnist Carolyn Hax. It’s written by a mom of an adult son. He’s in a serious relationship with a woman and they’re likely to get engaged, mom reports. “We like this young woman, but we have reservations,” she says. And then she gives the problem:

It’s clear our son spends a great deal of time and energy taking care of his girlfriend and making her feel secure and content, although she is rarely content for long. He makes all the food, goes out for her coffee, makes all the reservations, plans trips, etc. This never-ending support over her workplace and social worries seems awfully one-sided, and my son has confided that it can be exhausting and frustrating.
Okay, now, change this situation and imagine the writer is the mother of a young woman, describing her daughter’s possible future husband. If it helps, imagine this letter was written in 1958 instead of 2018.

Would anyone have written such a letter, even today, if the gender roles were reversed? Everything the son is doing for his girlfriend is the type of work routinely expected of women in long-term relationships, from cooking to making sure the man’s job’s social requirements get attention so he can further his career. Women are supposed to do all the planning, get the coffee, and support “their man.” That’s part of why men in high-level positions can advance as fast as they do, because their employers are getting a two-fer. And I can't tell you how many women I know who care-take their husband's feelings to make sure they're "secure and content."

Carolyn didn’t address any of this in her response. She played it like an egalitarian, which is fine, but I can’t get over how essentially sexist this letter is. Maybe mom and dad have an equal sharing of tasks and emotional labor in their household and have modeled that for their son his whole life, but it seems as though Carolyn could have at least pointed out the cultural irony in the situation.


Schlitz beer ad from this Tumblr, via Cory Doctorow's Twitter feed.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Along the Way on a Snowy Day

You may have heard Minnesota is having a record snowstorm right now. Maybe you're in it, too!

I spent most of my day going to a wonderful memorial service at a church in downtown Minneapolis, and chose to get there by Metro Transit bus. The bus part of the trip was great (thanks to the driver who made his way through near-white-out conditions, especially on the return trip in the afternoon).

Walking to and from the bus was not so great, though, since there was often a 20+ mph wind in my face, driving snow, and unshoveled sidewalks.

But I did get to see this bench along the way:


At least it wasn't a fork in the road, or I might have gotten lost in all the snow.

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Note: the bench is bare because the wind has blown it clean. Amazing.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Voice Recognition: Not Ready Yet

While flipping through the latest Discover magazine, I saw this ad for a captioned telephone, targeted at seniors and the hard-of-hearing:


And while I'm sure it's better than nothing, I want to warn potential buyers that the captioning results are unlikely to be as accurate as the ad shows. In fact, it's more likely that message shown would say:

hello grammar this is kale in how are you today. I what is to say thank you for the bird hey cod.
I base that prediction on the way my iPhone transcribes voicemails. It is especially bad at recognizing proper names, which is understandable, but amusing:


That message was from someone named Ellen. It cut off the beginning when she probably said "This is," and then garbled the next half-dozen words until it got to "we really need to talk to you later."


Another one from Ellen, now Helen.


This one, as you can see, is from someone named Abby, now dubbed Allie, followed by a couple of lines of unintelligible mumbling.

Here are a few other recent favorites:


I have no idea what "Fred water" was supposed to be or just about anything else in this message.


Okay, whatever that was supposed to mean.


Yes, Garalder is a common word, that's clearly the word someone would use.

On the plus side, voice recognition transcription is good for hours of amusement.